Eto Demerzel was not frequently seen, except by the Emperor Cleon. It was his policy to remain in the background for a variety of reasons, one of which was that his appearance changed so little with time.
Hari Seldon had not seen him over a period of some years and had not spoken to him truly in private since the days of his early time on Trantor.
In light of Seldon's recent unsettling meeting with Laskin Joranum, both Seldon and Demerzel felt it would be best not to advertise their relationship. A visit by Hari Seldon to the First Minister's office at the Imperial Palace would not go unnoticed, and so for reasons of security they had decided to meet in a small yet luxuriously appointed suite at the Dome's Edge Hotel, just outside the Palace grounds.
Seeing Demerzel now brought back the old days achingly. The mere fact that Demerzel still looked exactly as he always had made the ache sharper. His face still had its strong regular features. He was still tall and sturdy-looking, with the same dark hair with the hint of blond. He was not handsome, but was gravely distinguished. He looked like someone's ideal picture of what an Imperial First Minister ought to look like, not at all like any such official in history before his time ever had. It was his appearance, Seldon thought, that gave him half his power over the Emperor, and therefore over the Imperial Court, and therefore over the Empire.
Demerzel advanced toward him, a gentle smile curving his lips without altering in any way the gravity of his countenance.
"Hari," he said. "It is pleasant to see you. I was half-afraid you would change your mind and cancel."
"I was more than half-afraid you would, First Minister."
"Eto-if you fear using my real name."
"I couldn't. It won't come out of me. You know that."
"It will to me. Say it. I would rather like to hear it."
Seldon hesitated, as though he couldn't believe his lips could frame the words or his vocal cords sound them. "Daneel," he said at length.
"R. Daneel Olivaw," said Demerzel. "Yes. You will dine with me, Hari. If I dine with you, I won't have to eat, which will be a relief."
"Gladly, though one-way eating is not my idea of a convivial time. Surely a bite or two-"
"To please you-"
"Just the same," said Seldon, "I can't help but wonder if it is wise to spend too much time together."
"It is. Imperial orders. His Imperial Majesty wants me to."
"In two more years the Decennial Convention will be meeting again. You look surprised. Have you forgotten?"
"Not really. I just haven't thought about it."
"Were you not going to attend? You were a hit at the last one."
"Yes. With my psychohistory. Some hit."
"You attracted the attention of the Emperor. No other mathematician did."
"It was you who were initially attracted, not the Emperor. Then I had to flee and stay out of the Imperial notice until such time as I could assure you that I had made a start on my psychohistorical research, after which you allowed me to remain in safe obscurity."
"Being the head of a prestigious Mathematics Department is scarcely obscurity."
"Yes, it is, since it hides my psychohistory."
"Ah, the food is arriving. For a while, let's talk about other things as befits friends. How is Dors?"
"Wonderful. A true wife. Hounds me to death with her worries over my safety."
"That is her job."
"So she reminds me-frequently. Seriously, Daneel, I can never be sufficiently grateful to you for bringing us together."
"Thank you, Hari, but, to be truthful, I did not foresee married happiness for either of you, especially not Dors-"
"Thank you for the gift just the same, however short of the actual consequences your expectations were."
"I'm delighted, but it is a gift, you will find, that may be of dubious further consequence-as is my friendship."
To this, Seldon could make no reply and so, at a gesture from Demerzel, he turned to his meal.
After a while, he nodded at the morsel of fish on his fork and said, "I don't actually recognize the organism, but this is Mycogenian cooking."
"Yes, it is. I know you are fond of it."
"It's the Mycogenians' excuse for existence. Their only excuse. But they have special meaning to you. I mustn't forget that."
"The special meaning has come to an end. Their ancestors, long, long ago, inhabited the planet of Aurora. They lived three hundred years and more and were the lords of the Fifty Worlds of the Galaxy. It was an Auroran who first designed and produced me. I don't forget that; I remember it far more accurately-and with less distortion-than their Mycogenian descendants do. But then, long, long ago, I left them. I made my choice as to what the good of humanity must be and I have followed it, as best I could, all this time."
Seldon said with sudden alarm, "Can we be overheard?"
Demerzel seemed amused. "If you have only thought of that now, it is far too late. But fear not, I have taken the necessary precautions. Nor have you been seen by too many eyes when you came. Nor will you be seen by too many when you leave. And those who do see you will not be surprised. I am well known to be an amateur mathematician of great pretensions but of little ability. That is a source of amusement to those at the court who are not entirely my friends and it would not surprise anyone here that I should be concerned about laying the groundwork for the forthcoming Decennial Convention. It is about the convention that I wish to consult you."
"I don't know that I can help. There is only one thing I could possibly talk about at the convention-and I can't talk about it. If I attend at all, it will only be as part of the audience. I do not intend to present any papers."
"I understand. Still, if you would like to hear something curious, His Imperial Majesty remembers you."
"Because you have kept me in his mind, I suppose."
"No. I have not labored to do so. However, His Imperial Majesty occasionally surprises me. He is aware of the forthcoming convention and he apparently remembers your talk at the earlier one. He remains interested in the matter of psychohistory and more may come of it, I must warn you. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he may ask to see you. The court will surely consider it a great honor-to receive the Imperial call twice in a single lifetime."
"You're joking. What could be served by my seeing him?"
"In any case, if you are called to an audience, you can scarcely refuse. How are your young protegйs, Yugo and Raych?"
"Surely you know. I imagine you keep a close eye on me."
"Yes, I do. On your safety but not on every aspect of your life. I am afraid my duties fill much of my time and I am not all-seeing."
"Doesn't Dors report?"
"She would in a crisis. Not otherwise. She is reluctant to play the role of spy in nonessentials." Again the small smile.
Seldon grunted. "My boys are doing well. Yugo is increasingly difficult to handle. He's more of a psychohistorian than I am and I think he feels I hold him back. As for Raych, he's a lovable rascal-always was. He won me over when he was a dreadful street urchin and what's more surprising is that he won over Dors. I honestly believe, Daneel, that if Dors grew sick of me and wanted to leave me, she would stay on anyway for her love of Raych."
Demerzel nodded and Seldon continued somberly. "If Rashelle of Wye hadn't found him lovable, I would not be here today. I would have been shot down-" He stirred uneasily. "I hate to think of that, Daneel. It was such an entirely accidental and unpredictable event. How could psychohistory have helped in any way?"
"Have you not told me that, at best, psychohistory can deal only in probabilities and with vast numbers, not with individuals?"
"But if the individual happens to be crucial-"
"I suspect you will find that no individual is ever truly crucial. Not even I-or you."
"Perhaps you're right. I find that, no matter how I work away under these assumptions, I nevertheless think of myself as crucial, in a kind of supernormal egotism that transcends all sense. And you are crucial, too, which is something I have come here to discuss with you-as frankly as possible. I must know."
"Know what?" The remains of the meal had been cleared away by a porter and the room's lighting dimmed somewhat so that the walls seemed to close in and give a feeling of great privacy.
Seldon said, "Joranum." He bit off the word, as though feeling the mention of the name alone should be sufficient.
"You know about him?"
"Of course. How could I not know?"
"Well, I want to know about him, too."
"What do you want to know?"
"Come, Daneel, don't play with me. Is he dangerous?"
"Of course he is dangerous. Do you have any doubt of that?"
"I mean, to you? To your position as First Minister?"
"That is exactly what I mean. That is how he is dangerous."
"And you allow it?"
Demerzel leaned forward, placing his left elbow on the table between them. "There are things that don't wait for my permission, Hari. Let us be philosophical about it. His Imperial Majesty, Cleon, First of that Name, has now been on the throne for eighteen years and for all that time I have been his Chief of Staff and then his First Minister, having served in scarcely lesser capacities during the last years of the reign of his father. It is a long time and First Ministers rarely remain that long in power."
"You are not the ordinary First Minister, Daneel, and you know it. You must remain in power while psychohistory is being developed. Don't smile at me. It's true. When we first met, eight years ago, you told me the Empire was in a state of decay and decline. Have you changed your mind about that?"
"No, of course not."
"In fact, the decline is more marked now, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is, though I labor to prevent that."
"And without you, what would happen? Joranum is raising the Empire against you."
"Trantor, Hari. Trantor. The Outer Worlds are solid and reasonably contented with my deeds so far, even in the midst of a declining economy and lessening trade."
"But Trantor is where it counts. Trantor-the Imperial world we're living on, the capital of the Empire, the core, the administrative center- is what can overthrow you. You cannot keep your post if Trantor says no.
"And if you go, who will then take care of the Outer Worlds and what will keep the decline from being precipitate and the Empire from degenerating rapidly into anarchy?"
"That is a possibility, certainly."
"So you must be doing something about it. Yugo is convinced that you are in deadly danger and can't maintain your position. His intuition tells him so. Dors says the same thing and explains it in terms of the Three Laws or Four of-of-"
"Robotics," put in Demerzel.
"Young Raych seems attracted to Joranum's doctrines-being of Dahlite origin, you see. And I-I am uncertain, so I come to you for comfort, I suppose. Tell me that you have the situation well in hand."
"I would do so if I could. However, I have no comfort to offer. I am in danger."
"Are you doing nothing?"
"No. I'm doing a great deal to contain discontent and blunt Joranum's message. If I had not done so, then perhaps I would be out of office already. But what I'm doing is not enough."
Seldon hesitated. Finally he said, "I believe that Joranum is actually a Mycogenian."
"Is that so?"
"It is my opinion. I had thought we might use that against him, but I hesitate to unleash the forces of bigotry."
"You are wise to hesitate. There are many things that might be done that have side effects we do not want. You see, Hari, I don't fear leaving my post-if some successor could be found who would continue those principles that I have been using to keep the decline as slow as possible. On the other hand, if Joranum himself were to succeed me, then that, in my opinion, would be fatal."
"Then anything we can do to stop him would be suitable."
"Not entirely. The Empire can grow anarchic, even if Joranum is destroyed and I stay. I must not, then, do something that will destroy Joranum and allow me to stay-if that very deed promotes the Fall of the Empire. I have not yet been able to think of anything I might do that would surely destroy Joranum and just as surely avoid anarchy."
"Minimalism,” whispered Seldon.
"Dors explained that you would be bound by minimalism."
"And so I am."
"Then my visit with you is a failure, Daneel."
"You mean that you came for comfort and didn't get it."
"I'm afraid so."
"But I saw you because I sought comfort as well."
"From psychohistory, which should envision the route to safety that I cannot."
Seldon sighed heavily. "Daneel, psychohistory has not yet been developed to that point."
The First Minister looked at him gravely. "You've had eight years, Hari."
"It might be eight or eight hundred and it might not be developed to that point. It is an intractable problem."
Demerzel said, "I do not expect the technique to have been perfected, but you may have some sketch, some skeleton, some principle that you can use as guidance. Imperfectly, perhaps, but better than mere guesswork."
"No more than I had eight years ago," said Seldon mournfully. "Here's what it amounts to, then. You must remain in power and Joranum must be destroyed in such a way that Imperial stability is maintained as long as possible so that I may have a reasonable chance to work out psychohistory. This cannot be done, however, unless I work out psychohistory first. Is that it?"
"It would seem so, Hari."
"Then we argue in a useless circle and the Empire is destroyed."
"Unless something unforeseen happens. Unless you make something unforeseen happen."
"I? Daneel, how can I do it without psychohistory?"
"I don't know, Hari."
And Seldon rose to go-in despair.